so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens
 

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

The dog, dead for years, keeps coming back in the dream.
We look at each other there with the old joy.
It was always her gift to bring me into the present—

Which sleeps, changes, awakens, dresses, leaves.

Happiness and unhappiness
differ as a bucket hammered from gold differs from one of pressed tin,
this painting proposes.

Each carries the same water, it says.

—2003

Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.

 

 

                                              —Translation by William George Aston

This poem is in the public domain.

This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
the knee.
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used with the permission of the author.

California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.

Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.

When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.

A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—

Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.

Copyright © 2018 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
the knee.
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used with the permission of the author.

Like light but
in reverse we billow.

We turn a corner
and make the hills
disappear.

You rearrange
my parts until no
more hurting.

No more skin-sunk
nighttime fear.

No more blameless death.

My hair loses its atoms.
My body glows
in the dark.

Planets are smashed
into oblivion,
stripped of their power
to name things.

Our love fills the air.

Our love eats
the deadly sounds men
make when they see
how much magic
we have away
from them.


Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.


I.

my lover is a woman
& when i hold her
feel her warmth
     i feel good
     feel safe

then—i never think of
my family’s voices
never hear my sisters say
bulldaggers, queers, funny
     come see us, but don’t
     bring your friends
          it’s ok with us,
          but don’t tell mama
          it’d break her heart
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

II.

my lover’s hair is blonde
& when it rubs across my face
it feels soft
     feels like a thousand fingers
     touch my skin & hold me
          and i feel good

then—i never think of the little boy
who spat & called me nigger
never think of the policemen
who kicked my body & said crawl
never think of Black bodies
hanging in trees or filled
with bullet holes
never hear my sisters say
white folks hair stinks
don’t trust any of them
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother talk
of her backache after scrubbing floors
never hear her cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

III. 

my lover's eyes are blue
& when she looks at me
i float in a warm lake
     feel my muscles go weak with want
          feel good
          feel safe

then—i never think of the blue
eyes that have glared at me
moved three stools away from me
in a bar
never hear my sisters rage
of syphilitic Black men as
guinea pigs
     rage of sterilized children
          watch them just stop in an
          intersection to scare the old
          white bitch
never feel my father turn
in his grave
never remember my mother
teaching me the yes sirs & ma'ams
to keep me alive
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

IV.

& when we go to a gay bar
& my people shun me because i crossed
the line
& her people look to see what's
wrong with her
     what defect
     drove her to me

& when we walk the streets
of this city
     forget and touch
     or hold hands
          & the people
          stare, glare, frown, & taunt
               at those queers

i remember
     every word taught me
     every word said to me
     every deed done to me
          & then i hate
i look at my lover
& for an instant
     doubt

then—i hold her hand tighter
     & i can hear my mother cry.
     Lord, what kind of child is this?

"My Lover Is a Woman" by Pat Parker © Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady, used with permission.

I have folded my sorrows into the mantle of summer night,
Assigning each brief storm its allotted space in time,
Quietly pursuing catastrophic histories buried in my eyes.
And yes, the world is not some unplayed Cosmic Game,
And the sun is still ninety-three million miles from me,
And in the imaginary forest, the shingled hippo becomes the gray unicorn.
No, my traffic is not with addled keepers of yesterday’s disasters,
Seekers of manifest disembowelment on shafts of yesterday’s pains.
Blues come dressed like introspective echoes of a journey.
And yes, I have searched the rooms of the moon on cold summer nights.
And yes, I have refought those unfinished encounters.
      Still, they remain unfinished.
And yes, I have at times wished myself something different.

The tragedies are sung nightly at the funerals of the poet;
The revisited soul is wrapped in the aura of familiarity. 

“I Have Folded My Sorrows,” by Robert Kaufman, from SOLITUDES CROWDED WITH LONELINESS, copyright © 1965 by Bob Kaufman. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Co., published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, Inc. All rights reserved.

was no consolation to the woman
whose husband was strung out on opioids.

Gone to a better place: useless and suspect intel
for the couple at their daughter’s funeral

though there are better places to be
than a freezing church in February, standing

before a casket with a princess motif. 
Some moments can’t be eased

and it’s no good offering clichés like stale
meat to a tiger with a taste for human suffering.

When I hear the word miracle I want to throw up
on a platter of deviled eggs. Everything happens

for a reason: more good tidings someone will try
to trepan your skull to insert. When fire

inhales your house, you don’t care what the haiku says
about seeing the rising moon. You want

an avalanche to bury you. You want to lie down
under a slab of snow, dumb as a jarred

sideshow embryo. What a circus.
The tents dismantled, the train moving on,

always moving, starting slow and gaining speed,
taking you where you never wanted to go.

Copyright © 2024 by Kim Addonizio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

We met in the middle of the street only to discuss
the Buteo lineatus, but we simply said hawk
because we knew nothing of Latin. We knew nothing
of red in the shoulder, of true hawks versus buzzards,
or what time they started their mornings,
what type of snake they stooped low
and swift to eat. We knew nothing.
Or, I should say, at least I knew nothing,
and he said nothing of what he knew that day
except one thing he said he thought, but now I say
he knew: I’m going to die soon, my neighbor said to me
and assured he had no diagnosis, just a thought. He said it
just two weeks before he died outdoors just
twenty steps away from where we stood that day—
he and I between the porch I returned to and twisted
the key to my door to cross the threshold into my familiar
like always I do and the garage he returned to
and twisted some wrench probably on a knob of the
El Camino like always he did every day when usually
I’d wave briefly en route from carport to door
sometimes saying “how’s it going,” expecting
only the “fine” I had time to digest. Except today
when I stepped out of my car, he waved me over to see
what I now know to call the Buteo. When first I read its
Latin name, I pronounced it boo-TAY-oh
before learning it’s more like saying beauty (oh!).
I can’t believe I booed when it’s always carrying awe.
Like on this day, the buzzard—red-shouldered and
usually nesting in the white pine—cast a shadow
upon my lawn just as I parked, and stared back at us—
my mesmerized neighbor and me—perched, probably hunting,
in the leaning eastern hemlock in my yard. Though
back then I think I only called it a tree because I knew nothing
about distinguishing evergreens because I don’t think I ever asked
or wondered or searched yet. I knew nothing about how they thrive
in the understory. Their cones, tiny. And when they think
they’re dying, they make more cones than ever before. How did he
know? Who did he ask and what did he search to find
the date that he might die, and how did he know
to say soon to me and only me and then, right there
in that garage with his wrench and the some other parts
unknown for the El Camino and the radio loud as always
it was, stoop down, his pledge hand anxious against his chest,
and never rise again? And now the hemlock, which also goes

by Tsuga canadensis, which is part Latin, part Japanese,
still leans, still looks like it might fall any day now, weighed
down by its ever-increasing tiny fists. And the Buteo returns
each winter to reclaim the white pine before spring.
Most hawks die by accident—collision, predation, disease.
But when it survives long enough to know it’s dying, it may
find a familiar tree and let its breath weaken in a dark cranny.
And my neighbor’s wife and I now meet in the middle,
sometimes even discussing birds but never discussing
that day. And I brought her roses on that first anniversary
without him because we sometimes discuss a little more
than birds. And the Buteo often soar in twos, sometimes solo.
So high I cannot see their shoulders, but I know their voices
now and can name them even when I don’t see them. No matter
how high they fly, they see me, though I don’t concern them.
They watch a cottonmouth, slender and sliding
silent in tall grass. And the cardinals don’t sing.
They don’t go mute, either. They tink.
Close to their nests and in their favorite trees, they know
when the hawk looms. And their voices turn
metallic: tink, tink, tink.

Copyright © 2024 by Ciona Rouse. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

First they called me “it,” and then, ignorant of how my people
use this word, they mashed up the meager nouns
they had for gender and called me “the goy,” and said
to not be one or the other was to be nothing.
It ate the grass it was shoved in, knelt at salt licks.
It took the barbs and kicks and crushed them into
fur and leather. Oiled and burnished, it made those
halves into one galloping body. Horse and rider.
The centaur endured the school-day, cruel gray rag, filth-
stiffened. The boys and girls who fit so easily in their costumes
looked like stick figures, crude and two dimensional.

Dante already knew, it read later. In The Inferno, in the seventh
circle of hell, centaurs guard the river Phlegethon, one of Hades’
five rivers. Phlegethon: river of fire, river of boiling blood,
which boils forever the souls of those who commit violence
against their neighbors. Centaurs guard the edges, shooting
arrows at any of these sinners who try to move to the shallows.

When sometimes I wish I’d had a boyhood, I remember those
days instead, my four muscled legs. I was seven feet tall then,
riding myself, carrying myself. A centaur is never lonely.

Copyright © 2024 by Miller Oberman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.